Johnny Howard had actually answered all of the questions quite promptly, however I did not recognize his email. I thought it was a fundraising request. So that is my fault. Johnny was prompt. Johnny is the last of the candidate answering a standard list of questions for all the candidates of Ward 1 for St Paul City Council. I requested brief answers, no more than 300 words. Hopefully, this first answer will entice you to read more.
1) What do you think the job of city council person should accomplish?
The city council person should make certain that Ward One works for everyone. There is tremendous economic and cultural diversity in our ward. The council person should assure that everyone enjoys safe, walkable streets, good libraries, well-maintained homes, access to green space and a healthy environment.
2) What is your background? How does this background make you the better choice for city council person?
As founder and director of the Thomas Dale Block Clubs, I’ve proven that I can organize neighborhood residents and bring together people across race and economic lines to accomplish meaningful change. I also organized and ran a youth football team that engaged 160 kids at a time while teaching them as much about leadership and responsibility as about football.
3) What are the unique characteristics of your city council area?
Ward One includes Cathedral Hill, neighborhoods that are adjacent to Macalester, Frogtown, Summit-U, Aurora St. Anthony and part of the North End. It is an area of tremendous racial and economic diversity. Some people are wealthy, some are struggling, others are New Americans who are still adjusting to life in the US.
4) What three goals would you hope to accomplish as city council person?
I want to make sure that everyone who lives in Ward One believes that this a place where they want their children to raise their own children some day. That means safe streets where people enjoy walking and biking. It means well-maintained homes in every part of the ward, where everyone enjoys conscientiously delivered city services. It means access to well-paying jobs and entrepreneurial opportunity.
5) Since the city council involves negotiation of competing interests, please give an example where you successfully negotiated a difficult problem among multiple parties.
While I ran the Thomas Dale Block Clubs, the neighborhood was a hub for prostitution. Some of it was run out of so-called health spas. The building owner of one turned a blind eye toward the actual use of his property. With a group of committed neighbors, we educated the owner, engaged city police and the council person in understanding our concerns, and together convinced the owner to turn the property over to legitimate use.
6) When do you think it is alright for the city council to give special financial consideration to a single business?
I think the real business of the city council is to create a level playing field that encourages business but doesn’t play favorites. I can, however, imagine scenarios in which the public good realized by helping a single business would outweigh my qualms.
7) Please provide an example where you stood up for people or for rights against a powerful organization.
At the Thomas Dale Block Clubs I successfully organized hundreds of people. Because we had numbers and a means of communicating with members, we were able to convince public officials that it made more sense to join us than to fight us. We got huge improvements for our neighborhood that included John School (for customers of prostitutes), community policing that brought beat cops to Frogtown, a special community prosecutor to handle quality of life cases that are key to creating a sense of neighborhood security, excessive consumption of police services laws and much more.
8) Please tell us why your campaign is better choice (i.e. more organized, works harder, works smarter) with specifics?
We’re combining a broad-based network of neighborhood volunteers, drawn from decades of my community work, with a state-of-the-art effort to identify and connect with people most likely to vote in Ward One.
9) Please tell us how you as an elected official or your campaign would help other DFL endorsed candidates get into office?
I’ve worked to help elect other officials, such as Rena Moran and Paul Wellstone. As council person I’d reach out to other candidates who would help to support a progressive agenda.
10) If you could magically fix one thing about the city of St Paul right now, what would that one thing be and why?
I’d make sure that every kid had an equal chance at a decent future. A good education is part of that. But so is access to art and dance classes, theater, sports programs and so much more that is the norm in wealthy families but the exception for so many children in Ward One. All kids need places where they see great role models, and learn to expect that they can have a good life, too. We can and should build those places and programs.